A long time ago in a very intense work environment, I had a discussion with colleagues about whether it’s more important to be respected or liked. I chose “liked,” which most of the others felt was the wrong answer. I accepted that judgment for years, but I’m rethinking it now.
Is it possible that people pay more attention to who is telling them a message and how they deliver it than they do to the actual content of the message? Over and over again, I’ve seen people fail—despite the strength of their intellects, skills, and ideas—because for some reason they were not liked.
I have a colleague who feels this is particularly true in nonprofits, where “likeability” seems to be a key factor for success. This can be problematic because the requirements for fitting in and being liked are different everywhere. And it’s enormously frustrating for people who are made to feel like outsiders even when they do an excellent job.
I’ve also noticed this phenomenon in volunteer groups. People who are well-liked can get the same projects done that completely stymied others who were not as popular. They can bring forth the same suggestions that were previously blocked but have more success in motivating their peers.
Of course, we all know people who succeed without being liked. They consolidate power to get things done, and others submit to the sheer force of their wills. They are the archetypal leaders and successful entrepreneurs. However, I think they are becoming the exception, not the rule.
And from my own experience, I will say that trying the “first like me, then you’ll learn to respect me” method can have a high personal cost. It’s easier to get taken advantage of by others and to become burned out.